They’re all over your Facebook feed, and for good reason. Personal essays by popular authors and novices alike are relatable, engrossing reads.
Sometimes, their heart-wrenching reflections stay with you for days.
For reporters or academics, it can be hard to step back from research rituals and write from personal experience. But a personal essay can endear you to an audience, bring attention to an issue, or simply provide comfort to a reader who’s “been there.”
“Writing nonfiction is not about telling your story,” says Ashley C. Ford, an essayist who emphasized the importance of creating a clear connection between your personal experience and universal topics. “It’s about telling interesting and worthy stories about the human condition using examples from your life.”
But don’t worry if your life doesn’t seem exciting or heart-wrenching enough to expound upon; think of it as writing through yourself, instead of about yourself. “There are few heroes and even fewer villains in real life,” she said. “If you’re going to write about your human experience, write the truth. It’s worth it to write what’s real.”
Where to submit your personal essays
Once you’ve penned your essay, which publications should you contact? We’ve all heard of — and likely submitted to — The New York Times’ Modern Love column, but that’s not the only outlet that accepts personal narratives.
“Submit to the places you love that publish work like yours,” Ford advises, but don’t get caught up in the size of the publication. And “recognize that at small publications you’re way more likely to find someone with the time to really help you edit a piece.”
To help you find the right fit, we’ve compiled a list of 19 publications that accept essay submissions, as well as tips on how to pitch the editor, who to contact and, whenever possible, how much the outlet pays.
We’d love to make this list even more useful, so if you have additional ideas or details for these publications or others, please leave them below in the comments!
1. Boston Globe
The Boston Globe Magazine Connections section seeks 650-word first-person essays on relationships of any kind. It pays, though how much is unclear. Submit to firstname.lastname@example.org with “query” in the subject line.
Must-read personal essay: “Duel of the Airplane-Boarding Dawdlers,” by Art Sesnovich
2. Extra Crispy
Must-read personal essay: Gina Vaynshteyn’s “When Dumplings Are Resistance”
“Incisive. Irreverent. Curious. Provoctive. That’s DAME.”
If that’s you, too, send your pitch to email@example.com. Aimed at women in their 30s, the publication covers politics, sex, reproductive rights, LGBTQ issues and more. Pay varies.
Must-read personal essay: “I Donated My Dead Body to Give My Life Purpose,” By Ann Votaw
“The conversation is much more interesting when everyone has a voice,” according to this progressive, women-focused publication.
To add yours, send a 2-4 paragraph pitch to firstname.lastname@example.org with the word “pitch” in the subject line. Pay is $125 for op-eds and personal essays between 800-1500 words, and $500 for longer, reported pieces. See the submission guidelines for full details.
Must-read personal essay: “On Weight Loss Surgery And The Unbearable Thinness Of Being,” by Your Fat Friend
Want to write for this Jewish parenting site? To submit, email email@example.com with “submission” somewhere in the subject line. Include a brief bio, contact information, and your complete original blog post — you can either attach it as a Word document or paste it into the body of the email. Suggested word count: 500-1000. Per a well-loved private Facebook group for freelance writers, pay is about $50.
Must-read personal essay: B.J. Epstein’s “How I’m Trying to Teach Charity to My Toddler”
Publications in The Sun Magazine have won Pushcart Prizes and been selected for Best American Essays — so if your story gets chosen, you’ll be in good company. And since the editors “tend to favor personal writing,” that I-driven nonfiction essay might just be the perfect fit. (Fiction and poetry are also accepted.)
Pay ranges from $300 all the way up to $2,000 for accepted prose. The easiest way to send your story is online through Submittable.
Must-read personal essay: “Cleaned Out,” by Barbara Ehrenreich (Editor’s note: The Sun puts its stories behind a paywall…which is why they can afford to pay their writers so handsomely!)
This U.K. magazine has a helpful contributor’s guide. Unsolicited submissions, while rarely accepted, are paid; if an editor likes your pitch, you’ll hear back in 24 hours. Email firstname.lastname@example.org to get started.
Must-read personal essay: “The Long Ride to Riyadh,” by Dave Eggers
The popular Modern Love feature accepts submissions of 1,700 words max at email@example.com. Include a Word attachment, but also paste the text into your message. Consult the Times’ page on pitching first, and like Modern Love on Facebook for even more insight. Rumor has it that a successful submission will earn you $250. (Correction added Oct. 9, 2014: Payment is $300, The New York Times writes on its Facebook page.)
Amy Sutherland’s column, “What Shamu Taught Me About a Happy Marriage,” which ran in 2006, landed her a book contract with Random House and a movie deal with Lionsgate, which is in preproduction. “I never saw either coming,” Sutherland said.
Another option is the Lives column in the New York Times Magazine, which is “open to anyone with a good tale to tell.” Better yet: the submission guidelines encourage writers to “embrace your own strangeness.” To submit, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Must-read personal essay: “When a Couch is More Than a Couch” by Nina Riggs
*Editor’s note: As of December 2018, Salon is currently closed to submissions.
Salon accepts articles and story pitches to the appropriate section with “Editorial Submission” in the subject line and the query/submission in the body of the email. Include your writing background or qualifications, along with links to three or four clips.
“I was compensated $150 for my essay,” says Alexis Grant, founder of The Write Life, “but that was several years ago. All in all, working with the editor there was a great experience.” Who Pays Writers reports average pay of about 12 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: “I Fell in Love with a Megachurch,” by Alexis Grant
“Slate,” according to its own submission guidelines, “is known for making smart, witty, persuasive statements.” So if you’ve got something to say, email your pitch (not your drafted post) to the appropriate section editor. . Average reported pay is about 24 cents per word.
Must-read personal essay: Justin Peters’ “I Sold Bill Murray a Beer at Wrigley Field”
Each print issue has a specific cultural theme and welcomes both fiction and nonfiction — and even poetry! Stories and essays of 5,000 words max earn up to $250. Review periods are limited, so check their submission guidelines to make sure your work will be read with the next issue in mind.
Must-read personal essay: “Fire Island,” by Christopher Locke
12. The Billfold
The Billfold hopes to make discussing money less awkward and more honest — and regularly puts out specific calls for pitches. Send your pitch to email@example.com. Who Pays Writers notes a rate of about 4 cents per word, but this writer would consider the experience and exposure to be worth the low pay.
Must-read personal essay: “The Story of a F*** Off Fund,” by Paulette Perhach
Must-read personal essay: “The Length of the Pause” by Tanya Mozias Slavin
14. The Bold Italic
This publication focuses on California’s Bay Area. Strong POV and a compelling personal writing style are key. Typical pay is $50 per article, though higher rates can be negotiated for “complex” pieces. Email firstname.lastname@example.org with the subject line “Pitch: [Name], [Article Title].”
Must-read personal essay: “The San Francisco Preschool Popularity Contest,” by Rhea St. Julien
Must-read personal essay: “I Snuck Into A Celebrity Wedding On Palm Beach & I Would 100% Do It Again” by Alexandra Antonopoulos
16. The Rumpus
Focuses on essays that “intersect culture.” Submit finished essays online in the category that fits best. Wait three months before following up. Payment is lean, but possible: Eligible contributors can opt in to receive an even share of the $400 budget the publication sets aside monthly.
Must-read personal essay: “Not a Widow” by Michelle Miller
This personal-finance website welcomes submissions that discuss ways to make or save money. Read the guidelines before emailing your submission. Pay varies.
Must-read personal essay: “This Family’s Drastic Decision Will Help Them Pay Off $100K in Debt in 5 Years” by Maggie Moore
18. Tin House
Submit a story or essay of 10,000 words max in either September or March. Be prepared to hold your horses, though: Response times can be as high as six months, or even longer. Cover letters should include a word count and indicate whether the submission is fiction, nonfiction, or poetry. Pay varies.
Must-read personal essay: “More with Less,” by Rachel Yoder
Must-read personal essay: “What Does a Therapist Do When She Has Turmoil of Her Own?” by Sherry Amatenstein
Still looking for ideas? Meghan Ward’s blog post, “20 Great Places to Publish Personal Essays,” is worth perusing. MediaBistro also offers a section called How to Pitch as part of their AvantGuild subscription, which has an annual fee of $55.
This post was updated in September 2018 so it’s more useful and relevant for our readers!
Photo via Pexels